Measuring Time

Since moving to Israel a few years ago, one of the changes that I, and probably many immigrants had to get accustomed too, is the fact that the week here begins on Sunday, not Monday, as in most of the Western world. Oh sure, Orthodox Jews have always recognized Sunday as the first day of the week. Even in Hebrew, where the days are numbered instead of having names, Sunday is called “Yom Rishon,” or “First Day” or translated as beginning of the week.

Time can be confusing; heck, after seven years here I still mix up Sundays with Mondays and I’m definitely not the only one that has this curious habit. But it’s more than the days of the week that can make one’s eyes cross, but the very age of our entire existence.

The Hebrew calendar, which is dated from the biblical time of Creation, states that the world is 5775 years old. It is this date that is recalled by Jews world over as “Rosh HaShanah,” or “Beginning of the Year.” Not the birthday of the Jewish people, but the first day of life for the world we live in. I know, there are skeptics, historians, archaeologists and religious scholars who can argue this into the next eon. That is not my point.

This passed week, Israel’s new Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Hotovely, gave a speech in front of the Israeli diplomatic corps where she stressed that we must always put forward the argument that our connection to the Land of Israel goes back 4000 years  to the promise that G-d made with Avraham-that the land would be given eternally to the Jewish people as a sign of the covenant that he made with G-d, as an everlasting possession. This too, can be debated, even among Jews.

Actually, 4000 years in the span of time in a planet that is presumed to be anywhere from three to six billion years old, amounts to less than a grain of sand on a Tel Aviv beach. A billion years is something that, to most of us, is merely a statistic that cannot really be fathomed-unless you are one of the several hundred folks who have that much, or more cash on hand.Just to give you an idea of how much a billion really is-if you had one billion dollars and spent one dollar a minute(for some of us, that is not a huge problem) it would take you 2004 YEARS to spend it.

The State of Israel just this past April, celebrated its 67th birthday as an independent nation living in its ancient homeland. But I don’t even believe that the word ancient is applicable. Firstly, the State of Israel is actually the fourth independent Jewish state in the land. First, there was the Kingdom of David and Solomon which last from the tenth century BCE until the Babylonian conquest in 586 BCE ( even after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE by the Assyrians, the bloodline of the House of David was preserved in Judea). Then there was the rule of the Hashmona’im (the Maccabees) which lasted from 168 BCE until the Roman invasion in 44 BCE. Then, the final Jewish Revolt against Rome under the leadership of Shimon Bar Kochba in 132 CE, which established the third period of Hebrew independence, albeit for a short three years, but coins were struck and even the rebuilding of the Temple was begun.

Okay, why dwell on these periods? I’ll tell you. The Jewish people is the only civilization on Earth that has defied all the rules of history and time which the greatest historians have developed. Arnold Toynbee, the British scholar, could not figure out the Jews’ penchant for survival so he perjoratively named us as “fossils of history.” A great European historian and philosopher, Oswald  Spengler, advanced what has been called the “Annual Theory of History.” According to his theory, nations are akin to the seasons of the year-they are born in the Spring of their existence, stretching out their limbs and opening their eyes to discover the world around them-in the Summer of their youth they attain maturity, when they conquer the worlds around them, reaching the height of their strength and virility and filling the world with their exuberance-in the Autumn of its life, a civilization finally rests and having reached its physical apogee embarks on intellectual philosophy to justify its past and prepare for-the Winter of its life; where it slowly withers and disappears to be supplanted by another rising epoch.

Spengler also was mystified by the Jews and became an avowed anti-Semite; probably because we didn’t fit into his theories. He did write that Western civilization was in its Winter, to be replaced by either an Indian or Chinese culture, which according to him, were in the Spring of their existence.

Somehow, we Jews don’t fit into any of this-we have risen and fallen time and again, facing all the evils and slaughter that many different cultures, religions, political organizations and states and geographies have been foisted upon us. We have survived the cruelest of massacres and the harshest of unjustifiable expulsions. We have seen the rise of great and wondrous peoples and been subject to their whims and wars. Yet, as we have seen their marching feet conquer our land and witnessed their own , often bloody, demise.

So, on a timeline, where the heck are we? I believe that time has no meaning for the Jewish people. We are, it appears, eternal. Don’t take it from me, read what the great American author, Mark Twain, wrote about the Jews.

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race.  It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way.  Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of.  He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.  He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it.  The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmaties, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.  All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.  What is the secret of his immortality? ”

– September 1897 (Quoted in The National Jewish Post & Observer, June 6, 1984)

I don’t know the answer to his query. I suppose that there are as many theories as there are people who study history and theology. All I do know is that it doesn’t matter if I confuse Sunday with Monday.

Israel has always been here, throughout time no matter how one calculates it, no matter from whence one begins it, no matter what borders one assigns to it. The Land of Israel is the ETERNAL possession of the Jewish people-no matter what day, week, month, year, century or eon it happens to be.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.